A Whole New Ballgame

Riverfront Times uncovers secret plan for Ballpark Village cultural landmark.

"Never in a million years would I have guessed what lay beneath this structure," he writes. "It's almost like [architects Louis] LaBeaume and [Eugene] Klein knew it would someday be moved!"

Stubbs, who serves on the board of the International Association of Structural Movers, brings more-than-adequate experience to this job. In 1999 he and his team moved Minneapolis' 2,900-ton Shubert Theater off the site of a planned entertainment complex in the city's center. He recently submitted a proposal to relocate Ernö Goldfinger's London masterpiece, the eleven-story Carradale House, a half-mile north — and up a 4 percent incline — to a new site overlooking the city. And next year Stubbs and company are slated to hoist Mies van der Rohe's masterful Farnsworth House, move it 55 miles on a jumbo flatbed truck and set it down gently on the outskirts of Chicago.

The company's motto: "If you want it moved, we will come."

Gehry's new vision.
Gehry's new vision.
The St. Louis Cardinals ownership group and vice president 
of business development Bill DeWitt III.
peter newcomb/reuters
The St. Louis Cardinals ownership group and vice president of business development Bill DeWitt III.
Cardinals announcer Mike Shannon on the reimagined 
Ballpark Village: "I was promised an ESPN Zone, and I get 
scott rovak/upi
Cardinals announcer Mike Shannon on the reimagined Ballpark Village: "I was promised an ESPN Zone, and I get this?"

One of Stubbs' e-mails alludes to having led Gehry and Emily Pulitzer on a tour of the long-vacant Kiel.

"Hope you got the pix you needed," Stubbs writes, apparently concerned about Gehry's malfunctioning digital camera.

(That wasn't the only bump the entourage evidently encountered beneath the opera house: Stubbs inquires about "Mrs. P's slacks & blouse," apologizing for "that dang accordion lift" and offering to "knock off the dry-cleaning [from the final invoice].")

Most of Stubbs' communiqués address the structure of the opera house and his plans for relocating it. He describes a web of thick steel cables that will support Kiel's ground floor, "analagous to a tennis racquet or snowshoe." These will facilitate the use of hydraulic jacks to lift the structure from its foundation, thread it onto I-beams, ease it onto a set of 85 hydraulic dollies and roll it down Market Street.

"Really," Stubbs writes, "the only tricky part will be that right turn down by the steakhouse."

When Pulitzer writes to thank him for his efforts, Stubbs replies with modesty: "Pleasure is all mine. [Kiel is p]erhaps the most beautiful building I have ever seen. It will be a shining beacon for downtown."

He closes by assuring Ballpark Village's benefactor that the Kiel move is "definitely a go." Writes Stubbs: "It's the same as moving a doublewide, but on a larger scale. Hell, while we're at it we may just toss 'Twain' on the pile on the way. No extra charge!"

I don't see the point of moving all that paperwork downtown," Eddy Bale, curator of the Stanley Elkin Archives, grouses in an e-mail addressed to Emily Pulitzer.

The archive, which was created to house the prodigious papers of the late novelist and Parkview resident, is housed at Washington University. "Why would we want Cardinals fans getting their greasy hot dog fingerprints all over Stanley's work?"

In response Pulitzer called for backup — in the form of novelist, critic and former Elkin neighbor and colleague William H. Gass. Correspondence among the three reveals Pulitzer's hope to bring Gass' papers under Ballpark Village's aegis, as well as those of fellow U. City literary lions Howard Nemerov, Mona Van Duyn and Donald Finkel and Constance Urdang. (In the interest of full disclosure, Finkel and Urdang are the parents of Riverfront Times editor Tom Finkel.)

For the time being, however, Mike Shannon is proving a harder sell.

"At least give me a Cabo Wabo Cantina — something," Shannon writes in an e-mail dated October 12, the day the Cardinals commenced the 2006 National League Championship Series in New York against the Mets.

Shannon's e-mail points out that Gehry's predilection for steel surfaces does not merely clash aesthetically with the "masterpiece that is the new Busch" — there are functional concerns as well.

"Did you people ever consider the hitting background?" Shannon asks rhetorically. "Here you got an open stadium and your saying you want to put a MIRROR right out in center field?!!

"Look, I'm a straight shooter. Bottom line: I spent a couple million fully expecting that I would be neighbors with an ESPN Zone. I was told: 'red brick' and 'classic, conservatively Victorian buildings.' Whatever the hell that means. Like the look of Old St. Louis. You know. Musial. Dizzy Dean. Gibby. A 'Ballpark Village' should be someplace you can play stickball in, not watch men prancing around in tight pants at the Opera.

"I will have an opera house between me and my Cardinals," Shannon concludes. "Think about it: A goddam opera house. I was promised an ESPN Zone, and I get this?"

Upon being forwarded Shannon's e-mail by Pulitzer, Gehry fired back.

"An ESPN Zone is for drunks in the gutter," the architect writes. "Not for a New St. Louis."

The new Busch Stadium, Gehry adds, "is not architecture. It is mimicry. It is safe, and cloying, and an insult to St. Louis."

That e-mail thread, the most recent in the cache obtained by the Riverfront Times, ends with this from Frank Gehry:

"This project is literally in the shadow of the Arch — one of the great public sculptures IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD. Why would anyone want such VULGARITY in such proximity to PERFECTION?"

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